Following the great time we had in November 2014 in the Cairngorms, we were asked if we could arrange a similar trip to the Highlands…we could, so we did!
With the first two days plans sketched out according to predicted weather forecasts we used public transport and headed out from the Cairngorm Ski Centre along the aptly named ‘Windy Ridge’ to the summit of the UK’s 6th highest peak ‘Cairn Gorm’ at 1245m above sea level, but not before sampling the recommended ‘hot chocolate’ in the new cafe – and, it was worth it! Walking through the various ski fields we caught a fleeting glimpse of an Arctic Hare making off over the hillside; in addition to a lone Ptarmigan.
The going was good as we ascended, albeit slow in low cloud and compacted snow that had fallen the previous 10 days. Whereas, the final push to the summit from 1100m was a very different proposition, we faced deep snow drifts, strong northerly wind and associated spindrift (airborne snow and ice particles) and temperatures with wind chill around -20oC in addition to more driving snow; thankfully our kit list included ‘snow goggles’ and these came in very handy.
Coincidentally, we topped-out at 12.45pm, and after the obligatory summit photos and with safety first and foremost we took another compass bearing through the nearing zero visibility and commenced our slow and calculated descent.
From the Ptarmigam Restaurant building, we descended Coire na Ciste through the fresh snow covered heather bushes and rocks, making sure we avoided slips off hidden rocks and watery peat holes. Ensuring we remained on course we used the ski tow lines overhead as reference for our route in the poor visibility. Later, as darkness fell and with our head torches guiding our way we trekked through the forest, made much easier by using our Nordic Walking poles. We made great time, arriving at the Ryvoan Bothy by 6pm, 9 hours and 15km following our departure from the Cairngorm Ski Cafe.
Like most bothies Ryvoan was once a crofters cottages lived in by hardy folk that worked the land and managed the estate. Later it was gifted to the Mountain Bothy Association for walkers and mountaineers to shelter from the harshest of weather conditions. As a member of the MBA, we have enjoyed numerous remote facilities across Scotland as well as a few south of the border, and as such incorporate these into our adventures whenever appropriate.
Applying the ‘first come, first served‘ principle and being the first group into the bothy, we each claimed space for our mats and sleeping bags on both a raised platform and the floor, thus securing them for the evening. A good move as several other walkers and a dog later joined us.
A bothy night-out can be a cold experience; however; in addition to everything else we needed for our overnight stop, we had carried a dozen heat logs, and it was so worth the extra load as we sat close to the roaring fire, drying out, warming up and reflecting upon another great day in the Highlands.
With night temperatures in excess of -10oC , our open fire and the added coal brought up fellow adventurers kept the bothy relatively warm until the early hours.
The next day, with our kit packed away, a warm drink and calorific porridge breakfast inside us, we assessed the weather outside against what we had read the previous day on the MWIS website and and set about confirming route plans before heading out into the brisk morning air.
Throughout the night around 6 inches of fresh snow had been driven in on icy cold winds from the north and combined with now clear skies made the early morning sunrise spectacular.
As the sun rose, we stopped to absorb the rays on our chilled faces before heading westerly from the bothy to the 810m summit of Meall a Bhuachaille.
We made good time working our way up through the snow, and as we ascended we were treated to a reindeer herd grazing in the lea of the freezing winds, flocks of grouse and a single Ptarmigan. On the plateau before the top we encountered deep drifting snow up to a metre in depth as well as a few ice patches were the wind had scoured the landscape. Arriving at the top we had a brief rest and enjoyed a few snacks whilst sheltering from the bitter wind before commencing our descent.
The way down was initially slow due to the deep snow and potential for icy patches; however, we took our time and once off the hillside, ventured through woodlands of Glenmore Forest with its Scots Pine, red squirrels, spotted woodpeckers and more reindeer. Our destination was the snow covered sandy beach on the shores of Loch Morlich, with its tranquil waters and stunning views south of the Cairngorms and our journey the previous day.
Not wanting to waste our precious time in the mountains, on Monday we drove to Glenmore, walked once again towards Ryvoan and practiced navigation techniques learned on both the ‘Hill & Mountain Skills Courses”; although it was raining, it was worth it to see our reward a tranquil lochan nestled in the forest and flanked by a crag.
As I was writing this report, Helen and Nicky were asleep on the plane home, whilst Kevin was rattling through the book he took with him, but barely started…however before they retired I asked them to sum up their Cairngorms Magic experience, to which they gave this account, which sums up our time perfectly: